Most Opioids Not Stored Away From Teens, Children, But Parents Not Concerned

By Kelly Burch 02/24/17

Only 13% of parents said they worry about their children accessing their opioid pills. 

Woman looking in medicine cabinet.

Despite the growing number of PSAs aiming to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic and the risks of prescription medicines at home, only 31% of adults who use opioid pain pills and have kids under 17 years old living with them report storing their pills safely. 

A nationwide survey of 681 adults who used opioid pain pills in the last year found that most did not secure them in a locked or latched place. Locking up prescription pills or keeping them out of reach of young children are considered best practices. 

The study will be published in the March edition of the journal Pediatrics

"Our work shines a light on the pervasiveness of unsafely stored opioids in American homes with children," said study lead author Eileen McDonald, who works with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. "Unsafely stored opioids can contribute to accidental ingestions among younger children and pilfering by older children, especially high school students. We know that teens who use these drugs recreationally frequently get them from homes where they are easily accessible, increasing their risk for addiction and overdose." 

The study also examined parents' attitudes toward safe storage. Only 13% of parents said they worry about their children accessing their opioid pills. Parents of teenagers were less concerned than parents of younger children, despite the fact that opioids are the second most commonly used illicit drug among kids ages 12 to 17 (with only marijuana more commonly used). 

"Our findings should encourage pediatricians to ask patients about the presence of opioids in the home," McDonald said. "This paper also demonstrates the need to educate parents and children about opioid-related risks and how easily kids can access opioids that aren't under lock and key.”

Child-resistant prescription pill containers can prevent young children from ingesting pills, but older children and teens can easily open containers. Because of this, study authors call for more progress in personalized pill dispensers that can prevent teens from accessing pills that are not theirs. 

"We need new packaging, such as tamper-resistant, personalized pill dispensers, to make it easier for parents to keep these potentially dangerous medications inaccessible to older children,” said Andrea Gielen, study author and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. “In the meantime, parents should keep their medications locked away and dispose of any leftover pills promptly and safely."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.